The thought police
But the new rules go a lot further. Apparently Universities should also be reporting anyone who misses more than ten hours of lectures or seminars. For someone doing more than five hours in a day, that would seem to mean you can spend two days sick, depressed or demotivated and get placed on a watch-list. Foreign students often have a hard time fitting in at universities, and I really don't see that helping.
More inexplicably still, the rules also mandate that, in addition to being able to pay their fees, students should be able to declare £800 a month: seriously? Is there some special reason why we want to limit our foreign student intake to the children of foreign plutocrats? I've managed to eat, live, pay rent and spend a significant amount of time drunk as a skunk in the past few months, and I'm doing it on much less than £800 a month. Even in London, you'd think a frugal, hard-working student - the sort who would be a real benefit to a course, and would really need the degree - would be able to get by on a lot less than that.
And it gets weirder. Apparently "alomost 300 bogus colleges have been uncovered in the past three years, many involved in immigration scams." And this seems to be a motivating factor in the legislation. According to the Home Office: "This new route for students will ensure we know exactly who is coming here to study and stamp out bogus colleges who facilitate the lawbreakers."
Is anyone else confused here? Let's say I'm a bogus college, making my money largely from selling my "educational services" to foreigners looking for student visas. How likely does it seem that I'll start reporting that my customers are actually not the studious souls they claim to be, but actually filthy blighters gaming the system so badly that we may be in danger of finally giving Richard Littlejohn a stroke as he ponders the unfairness of it all from his Florida mansion?
I suppose, charitably, you could guess that the idea is to make it easier to prosecute the bogus colleges - if they aren't reporting enough fake students, it could constitute evidence of "bogus college" status - but this seems like a hugely disproportionate tool for doing it. All the real colleges and universities end up with an increased regulatory burden, a seriously compromised ability to talk to foreign students about legitimate problems, a much smaller base of quality foregin students to actually recruit from (only the fantastically wealthy need apply), and quite possibly an increasing divide between foreign and domestic students.
I know that the whole idea that government should try and pursue its objectives so as to minimally infringe the liberty of the individual is a hopelessly unfashionable idea these days (and doubly so when that individual isn't even a doughty British citizen). But even setting aside my quaint notions about the rights of man, I think there are pretty good reasons to think that the collateral damage here far outweighs any possible benefits, if only in terms of all that guff about making sure we have cutting-edge Universities.